When hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 2004, my son, Murray, and I were traversing the “100 Mile Wilderness,” the longest stretch of the trail between roads. In the middle, we ran across a crew, 50 miles from the closest paved road, busting boulders into gravel to fix the trail. Talking with them made me realize that, though I had been involved in trail building for over 30 years, it had never occurred to me that the trail required regular and intense maintenance.
Upon returning to Georgia, I researched and found the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. This group of volunteers, under contract with the National Park Service, is responsible for the management of the AT, to maintain every mile in Georgia. The AT, 2,200 miles long, is maintained by volunteers. Every mile has an overseer and I have been assigned a one mile section between Woody Gap and Gooch Gap.
So what is involved? It’s just a footpath in the woods, right? The answer is not so simple. Every year, more than 10 million people hike on the Appalachian Trail. That translates to lots of wear and tear. Every time it rains, water erodes the treadway. Every time an old tree gives it up or a storm blows through, there are deadfalls across the path.
In late February and early March each year, overseers are expected to get the trail in good shape for the coming thousands of thru hikers that are headed from Georgia to Maine. The path is checked for any winter blowdowns; the drainages and paths to route water off of the trail have to be cleaned out of siltation and vegetation; and dams and water bars --devices to route water to the drains -- must be checked and repaired. Then in summer, the weeds that grow up in the sunshine exposed pathway must be cut. Weed eating two miles of weeds (a mile on either side) is quite intensive! In between these two big jobs is the regular checking and small repairs.
All of this is done by volunteers, some of whom live a couple of hours travel from the trail. The National Park Service reports every year that tens of thousands of volunteers donate hundreds of thousands of hours, worth millions of dollars, to the upkeep of the AT.
Several AT trail overseers live in Lumpkin County and Dahlonega. Jason Gotch is the supervisor for section 4, comprised of 11 one mile sections from Hightower Gap to Woody Gap. Tom Lamb maintains section 4.10, Grassy Gap Road to Ramrock Mountain. Roger Roy maintains section 4.3, Horse Gap to Sassafrass Mountain.
In addition to the AT, most other trails on federal and state lands are also maintained by volunteer clubs. Yahoola Outdoors, a local outdoor club, maintains the Dockery Lakeshore Trail that goes around Dockery Lake.
Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber & Visitors Bureau | 13 South Park Street | Dahlonega, GA 30533 | (706) 864-3711 or (800) 231-5543.